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Child custody fight regarding three orphans involves tribal court

46520469_S.jpgVarious treaties and past court decisions acknowledge the unique legal and political statuses of Native American Tribes as sovereign nations within the United States. This fact has become a central focus in a child custody battle surrounding three young girls who became orphans when their parents were killed by an alleged drunk driver. The girls have been placed in the temporary custody of their maternal aunt and uncle, as decided by a federal judge outside Missouri.

A Native American tribal court has stated its belief that it should be given a ruling voice in the situation. The girls' father, age 26 at the time of his death, was a member of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians. The tribal court contends that the orphaned children are, therefore, also members of the same tribe. Because the 1978 federal Indian Child Welfare Act grants tribal governments ruling voices in custody situations involving American Indian children, the tribal court representing the Miwok tribe wants the federal government to act according to its request, which is that custody be granted to the children's paternal aunt, also a member of the Miwok tribe.

The original Act was enacted when American Indian children were being placed into non-Indian homes, thus preventing them from being raised within their own cultures. A spokesperson of the tribal court said it is very important that its decisions regarding child custody situations be honored on and off reservations in the United States. The ongoing situation is being closely watched by many in a U.S. District Court in California.

Most child custody problems in Missouri are obviously not centered on contentious issues between the federal government and Native American tribal courts. However, many families are facing problems just as difficult and potentially life-changing. Those in need of guidance can contact an experienced family law attorney for assistance.

Source: Miami Herald, "Girls caught in custody battle after parents are killed in head-on collision", Pablo Lopez, Oct. 30, 2016

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